Last week, I wrote about an article that I read called Be a Cage-Buster. I ended the post by talking about some cage-busting teachers that I know. I talked a little about and posted links to a project that I worked on with the National Education Association. Since working on the project from that post, I have made a point of trying to be more involved in the Association. I've been a member of the Mississippi Association of Educators for the duration of my teaching career. However, I never really knew what all the Association could offer to me as a professional until recently. I figure if I didn't know about all of the opportunities, others might not know either. With all of the digital information we are inundated with on a daily basis, we can sometimes overlook messages, emails, and other communications. I know that is what was happening to me. 

So, I decided to go ahead and write about it this week. Maybe having another piece of digital communication will give others one more opportunity to learn about these professional opportunities. Actually, I really want to highlight one opportunity in particular: NEA edCommunities.

Here is a bit of information about the vision for edCommunities from the actual website:
  • CONNECT with virtual learning events to expand your PD opportunities!
  • COLLABORATE with other educators and education professionals!
  • SHARE classroom-ready resources and assessment and instruction materials!
  • ENGAGE with those who share your commitment to student success!
Joining NEA edCommunities means sharing your commitment and dedication through an open exchange of strengths and resources with thousands of other education professionals. Free and open to all, NEA edCommunities is driven by you to foster student success.
There is also a brochure available. I just had to mention the brochure here because I really like one line from it:

Great minds lead the profession on NEA edCommunities. 

You do not have to be an NEA member to join edCommunities. It is open to all. Here's what I really like about this platform:
1. I am the only art teacher at my school. Sometimes, I can feel isolated because of that. There's a music teacher, media teacher, physical education teacher, and computer teacher with whom I work closely. However, when it comes to my subject, it is all me. The other art teachers in my district also make every effort to collaborate, communicate, and work together. Again, though, it can be so difficult to do that when you are not working at the same site.  So, I have found online professional networks to be invaluable to my success as an educator.  
2.  Online networks are open 24/7. I have two small children and cannot do much professional work while they are awake. It is hard for me to attend optional professional development in the evenings because they need me at home. With online networks, I can explore late at night and on weekends. 
3. NEA edCommunities allows me to explore all of the vast realms of the field of education. Art is the subject that I teach, but it is essential for me to know about other areas and how they connection to what I teach as well. Plus, I have interests in other things besides just arts education. For instance, there is a group on edCommunities called ESSA Implementation. I've been reading a lot of the resources and comments posted there lately.
4. There are no barriers to what you can learn on edCommunities. Because it is a collaborative space, people post resources and share ideas. However, there is also dialogue. The dialogue is invaluable. There is nothing like learning from the perspectives of others. There is nothing like learning about what is happening in the field in other states. edCommunities is different from a site where you go to just look at lesson plans or resources. The educators are talking about how they use those resources. They are troubleshooting issues and showing each other a great deal of support.

I highly recommend you join NEA edCommunities. Again, you do not have to be a NEA member or certified teacher. Any educator can join!

Now, it would be silly of me to neglect to plug the group that I recently started on edCommunities. Actually, I am the facilitator of this group and will be very active here in the upcoming months. This is a brand new group. So, I am working to build up membership and drive engagement. 

The group is called ART. Here is the description that I wrote (since the group is new, it is subject to change):

It is time to artsy-up the educational environment in this country! Hop on in to this NEA edCommunity for arts-interested educators!

This is an online forum where arts-interested educators from across the nation can collaborate. We will explore best practices, issues, and trends in art education. This is a forum where we will collaborate on all aspects of the profession including classroom management, curriculum, policy, standards, assessments, lessons, advocacy, and everything else! We will especially explore what works in our classrooms and for our students.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go join NEA edCommunities and the ART group! You will be so glad that you did!